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England's Doves fly fast and friendly

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A band could do worse than invite comparisons to one of the best acts of the last decade. But it's not as if Doves were all smiles this June, when Rolling Stone dubbed the band "Radiohead knockoffs" in an otherwise glowing review of the Manchester outfit's latest release, The Last Broadcast.

"For some reason, we just get that in the States," says drummer Andy Williams, one third of a trio that also includes his guitar-playing twin brother, Jez, and frontman Jimi Goodwin. "People who come to the gigs don't actually hear that. So I think it's lazy journalism, really."

Already a No. 1 seller in England, The Last Broadcast is a soothing whirl of layered electro-acoustics, chiming hooks, ringing distortion, off-hand electronic effects and the occasional house beat -- all of it buzzing with positive energy that might sound ham-fisted if it weren't so heartfelt. It is (brace yourself) a "message" album. But it rarely bows to empty sentiment or cure-all prescriptions for happiness, and it doesn't presume to have the answers to what ails us. It does, however, have the sense to keep the focus personal, thriving on the sort of weathered optimism that can only come out of tragedy.

"My anger's all but done," sings Goodwin on "Satellites." "Sweet Lord, I swear I've seen the darkness. Sweet Lord, I swear I've seen some pain."

Dare say a little of that darkness and pain was self-inflicted. Doves may appear confused by all the big-names comparisons -- in addition to Radiohead, there's U2 and the Smiths. But the hype also has fueled a relentless perfectionist streak.

That quest for nothing short of brilliance helps explain why the band took four years to ready its 2000 debut, Lost Souls. And there were numerous distractions along the way. An electrical fire leveled their recording studio in 1996, followed by the 1997 demise of the members' first group project, Sub Sub, a house act that had a top three U.K. hit a few years earlier. Their friend and manager, Rob Gretton, passed away in 1999. And somewhere along the way, Goodwin had a nervous breakdown. "There was a lot of stuff flying around," says Williams.

So it's no wonder Lost Souls was a bit of a downer. Prolonging the agony: the band's obsessive pursuit of "killer" (their word) songs in a window-less cell of a studio that once belonged to New Order. But misery moves units in Britain, where Lost Souls resonated with listeners and critics alike.

Doves bounced out of their funk with surprising speed, taking just a year to make The Last Broadcast, which -- at the very least -- is a stunning aural testament to the wonders of antidepressants.

"After Lost Souls, we toured the world, and our outlook changed," Williams says. "It gave us a real confidence. So it just felt natural to do more positive music. But even our most positive songs touch on this dark side -- and I think that's what balances it out."

Despite the relative speed in which it was made, The Last Broadcast doesn't in any way feel rushed. If anything, the album's refined, effortless flow works to its disadvantage, as no single track truly stands out. The overall impression is that of a compelling whole comprised of somewhat indistinct parts. Which is strange when you consider that The Last Broadcast was self-produced on the move, at studios in Manchester, Liverpool, Bath (at Peter Gabriel's Real World complex) and London.

"We had a support tour booked quite early on," says Williams. "So it was almost like we had a deadline. The writing happened really quickly, so the thing that took all the time was producing the record -- experimenting with things. We were lucky we managed to finish it in time. It benefited from that sense of urgency."

While all that scrambling from place to place would seem enough to purge the band of its perfectionist ways, Williams doubts it. "We're very obsessive," he says, "I can't imagine any of us going into the studio and being blase."

Translation: It could be a long wait for the next Doves opus.


hobart.rowland@creativeloafing.com

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